This latest volley doesn't lay the blame squarely at the feet of the fansub community (for a change) but acknowledges that the way anime is distributed in R1 is broken.
Anime in Japan is hideously expensive. Fans pay ¥5000 and more for one episode. I remember being aghast that Project A-ko cost nearly $80 in Japan--and it was, in fact, relatively cheap at that price.
The various comments I've seen in the anime blogosphere about this issue discuss a lot of the cost/benefit issues of various distribution schemes, and talk about this and that and the other issue--but only a few people generally seem to get that the problem begins at the source: in Japan.
Anime is a niche market, particularly because it's so freaking expensive. I'm sure that someone who understands marketing a lot better than I do could figure out how to balance cost versus distribution to increase volume and decrease sticker price in a revenue-neutral fashion; but I wonder whether that would be worth the effort--would sales actually increase?
I've mentioned before the things I would do if I was in charge of the world, and one of them was for anime companies to simultaneously release the stuff both here and in Japan. They could hire people to translate the scripts and add "soft" (switchable) English subtitles during the production process.
But the price in Japan would have to be the same as the price here; otherwise Japanese people would buy the R1 disks and save themselves 3/4 of the price of the disks. (I would wager some of that is already happening.) And that won't change.
That's why Princess Mononoke was almost released here in the US without a Japanese language track, without subtitles--because Ghibli was worried that Japanese would import the R1 disks, cutting into their sales. (Fortunately, sanity prevailed, and we don't have to watch the Disney dub version if we don't want to. As good a dub as it is, sometimes you want the original.)
Most of my issues with anime have to do with cost and availability, though--and these are issues which the fansub community satisfies quite nicely.
Cost: I bought Gundam W one disk at a time, paying $25 per disk; it ended up being $250 plus more for Endless Waltz. After the release was done, they made a box set of it...and it sold for $150. That taught me to wait until a series had been completely released before buying it, because if they're going to sell box sets for a fraction of the per-disk price, F it--I can wait.
Ranma 1/2 was always annoying that way--Viz charged $30 for a DVD with two episodes on it, when Viz was releasing Pokemon, dub-only, three episodes to a $22 DVD. When a season of Ranma was finished, out came the box set for around $120--about a third of the cost of the entire season on individual disks.
I got to the point of flatly refusing to buy anything that was less than three episodes to a DVD, and I did that reluctantly. That saved me a lot of money in the case of Cardcaptor Sakura. The two box sets, encompassing the entire series, cost me as much as three or four of the individual DVDs would have.
Availability: most of the stuff I like isn't available here, and it isn't likely to be available here for a long time, if ever. How long has Pretty Cure been around? What about the live-action Hana Yori Dango? Will that ever be commercially released here? How about Love GetChu, Umisho, Amaenaideyo!? Anyone?
I thought Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne had been licensed, yet AnimeSuki still lists it--and they take down torrents of licensed anime, so WTF?
I've been waiting for more Yawara! since 2001. AnimEigo has had the rights to it for at least two years and we might get to buy the first chunk in "early 2008". Screw that; at least fansubbers are prompt most of the time.
"Oh, this is so good it might be licensed, so I'll wait." I'm not going to do that. I'm tired of waiting for anime series. I waited years for Kimagure Orange Road; I've waited years for Yawara!. I waited a long time for Fruits Basket, Marmalade Boy, a host of Studio Ghibli films--and I am sick of waiting for anime to trickle out to the stores.
Marmalade Boy--I'm glad I grabbed all the fansubs of it, because it was finally released to DVD about three years after it was licensed, and in three box sets costing $150 each! The same goes for Hana Yori Dango; Viz is dribbling it out and--if past experience is any guide--their translation will blow ass.
I missed getting Video Girl Ai on fansub. There is a scene early in the story where the main character is about to confess his love to the girl of his dreams, but she first tells him that she likes his best friend--and so he takes a drink from his freshly-opened can of tea. He makes a comment which is overtly aimed at the tea, but is actually about his feelings at discovering the girl's true feelings.
Fansub: This sure is bitter.
Viz: I wasn't expecting this.
...which line is better?
Viz has a history of trying to tailor the translations to the American audience. They hacked out several chapters of Maison Ikkoku and the recent reprint of the series has not fixed the deliberate mis-translation of Yuusaku's situation. At the beginning of the series, he's a ronin--he has failed his college entrance exams, so he's going to cram school and preparing to take them again--but Viz translated this as "midterms" and "classes" rather than giving a straight translation. "Oh, Americans won't understand this." *sigh* So add one page to the damn book explaining it.
While we're on the subject, I intensely dislike it when the translators have Japanese people learning Spanish rather than English. Spanish is about as useful to most Japanese as Latin. Look, we understand that the characters are Japanese and that they don't necessarily speak English, and that we're reading a translation--so show them learning English. We'll get it. We're smart enough to figure it out.
The Wedding Peach manga featured German sound effects--what the shit was that about?
So my issues with the anime industry in the US basically amount to four items:
1) Cost--the stuff costs too damn much.
2) Availability--there's a hell of a lot of stuff out there, and we see a narrow slice of it--usually more than a year after it's released in Japan.
3) Translation--don't dumb it down, and don't screw it up. Fansubbers do a good job of this; people who are getting paid for it ought to do better, not worse.
It is possible to do a good dub, but not if you're trying to get it done at minimum cost. I don't mind a good dub--the El Hazard dub is excellent, as is the first season of Ranma 1/2 and most of the Tenchi Muyo! that's out there.
The quality of dubs has gone into the toilet since the late 1990s. Gundam W was the last fair dub I heard, and it was borderline--too many characters sounded exactly the same even though they were voiced by different people. The quality of voices and acting that you get these days is horrible, to the point that I can't watch InuYasha--or any of the new series--without cringing. I don't bother any more.
Make sure the actors are pronouncing the names correctly. And give the actors some time to rehearse their lines, too.
In fact, if you're going to do a dub, you're going to be spending money--just do it right. For Christ's sake, any job worth doing is worth doing correctly so why not spend a few extra dollars and do it right?
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Still, the anime industry--both in the US and in Japan--doesn't give a rat's ass what I think. My role in all this is to fork over money for their products; otherwise I am supposed to sit down and shut up. Certainly they are not going to listen to me when I try to tell them why I don't want to fork over money for what they're offering me.
Present a product worth buying in a timely fashion, for a fair price, and I will buy it. Try to fob off two episodes of crap on a $30 DVD and I will walk on by. (I don't care if the Japanese pay $30 for one episode.) And, by the way, I don't need your product; I can afford to wait wait a year if it means I can buy the box set for a third of the price I'd pay for buying the disks individually, as they come out.
I suspect that I'm not alone in this, which is why there is a burgeoning fansub "industry" on the Internet.